Belfast Telegraph

Thatcher minister Prior admits 'IRA's violence worked'

Jim Prior , the former Northern Ireland Secretary of State under Margaret Thatcher, has said the "IRA's violence works".

Tory grandee Lord Prior oversaw Northern Irish affairs in 1981 at the time of the hunger strikes when 10 republicans died in prison.

Mrs Thatcher said the inmates were criminals and refused to grant concessions. Lord Prior claimed she never really understood what the problem was.

He said: "Violence probably does work, it may not work quickly and may not be seen to work quickly but in the long run one has to look back and say it did work."

During Peter Taylor's BBC documentary the peer said the IRA had tried to kill him and was "close to terrorism".

The armed group targeted the Tory cabinet during their party conference in Brighton in 1984, and the bomb killed five people including the Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry.

Lord Prior said: "But there was a deeper side to it as well as a terrorist side."

He added: "I know we did not win it but I am not certain the other side won it.

"As time went on it became possible for both sides to get into a position where it was easier to make peace than make war."

One of the leading "wets" in Mrs Thatcher's first Cabinet, Lord Prior had served in Ted Heath's earlier government.

From 1979 until 1981, he was Mrs Thatcher's employment secretary. In 1981, after a series of disputes with the Prime Minister over economic policies, she moved him to the Northern Ireland Office. He left the Cabinet in 1984 and stepped down from the Commons in 1987.

Lord Prior is best remembered in Northern Ireland for his introduction of "rolling devolution" in 1982 to elect an assembly with gradually increasing powers. The nationalist SDLP decided not to take up seats and the body was dissolved in 1986.

Fellow Conservative peer and former party chairman Lord Norman Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed in the Brighton bombing, said: "I have no sympathy for those who declare the war but having said all that, one way or another, a ceasefire was achieved and to that extent it was a price that was worth paying.

"I don't think this was a war that was won, it was a war which ended in a truce."

Former prime minister John Major, who once said it would turn his stomach to talk to the IRA but whose administration was involved in early contacts with republicans, was asked about his attitude now.

He said the angry part of him would never sit down with the IRA but the pragmatic part of him would if the outcome would carry the process forward.

Nobel Laureate Lord Trimble, a former first minister in Northern Ireland who led the Ulster Unionist Party before its eclipse by the DUP, said: "There may have been misjudgements I made, there may have been misjudgements the SDLP made, but I am not going to say it was not worth it."

 

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